When Kaiser Bill’s boys were trampling on Little Belgium, goes the story, a German statesman, asked what History would say of them, replied -“We’ll write the history.”
Perhaps the story is an invention of a servant of the Kaiser’s cousin. The one in London, whose guns were to shell Dublin and whose goons were to burn Cork. But I like it, for it didn’t occur to the statesman, (or the story’s inventor) that if the Kaiser won his war, scrawlers and crawlers from the vanquished countries would save German historians the trouble, by doing the job for them.
Anyhow, the Kaiser didn’t win. His commanders surrendered their armies, guns and fleet in November 1918 in a clearing in the Forest of Compiegne, north of Paris. I was there a few months back. It’s a good place to muse on the processes by which history is written. And re-written.
In the centre of the clearing is a huge stone tablet, engraved in French. It commemorates the capitulation of the criminal German Empire to the peoples it sought to enslave, and the returnto the French motherland of the two green fields, Alsace and Lorraine, which had been snatched by the Boche in 1870. (My translation is rough, but doesn’t misrepresent the spirit of the inscription).
There’s also a small museum, with hundreds of photographs of the 1914/18 conflict, a few machine-guns and small arms from the period, and in pride of place, a gleaming Pullman railway-car. The Pullman, its desks and chairs, are arranged exactly as in November 1918, but with cards to show where the victors and the vanquished sat. In a glass ash-tray is the butt of the cigarsmoked by the Allied Generalissimo, France’s Marshal Foch, before he admitted the German commanders to his presence. They had been left cooling their heels for some hours before being asked the superfluous question of the purpose of their visit. The Boche had his nose rubbed in the merde. Not only was there the suffering of the past four years to avenge.
There was also 1871, when the Germans had the gall to proclaim their Empire in the Palace of Versailles, the show-piece of France’s “Sun-King” , Louis XIV, and of a succession of scarcely more modest French rulers.
Primary-school children come to Compiegne by the coach-load, shepherded by their teachers, to relish the great deliverance of that day in 1918. But there was a sequel in Compiegne thatmight easily be missed by the casual visitor or the young school-child. The inscribed tablet is not a monolith, though it once was. It’s a mosaic.
The tablet was blown to pieces in June 1940, and was not reassembled for some years. The Pullman and Marshal Foch’s cigar have been reconstructed by a process not to be repeated until the Angel Gabriel sounds the Last Trumpet and our bones and ashes rise again in Glory, as The Good Book promises. They perished in an air-raid, in Germany, where Adolf Hitler had them removed as a prize. First he had taken the Pullman from its museum in Paris, back to that same clearing in Compiegne. That time it was the turn of the French to have their noses rubbed in the scheisse, as their dignitaries were left to cool their heels. Then Marshal Petain surrendered France to Hitler’s mercy. Germany occupied the coasts and all strategic cities, including Paris. A collaborationist French government, led by Petain, administered the rest of France, and some of her colonies, from Vichy.
The story of Vichy France is not edifying and, it seems, in the interest of civic virtue, today’s young citizens learn half-truths and little white lies. In 1942 the struggle for the soul of France,in the person of a cynical and worldly police chief, was depicted in the Hollywood classic Casablanca” The film is re-shown every other month on one TV channel or another, probably on demand. For me it improves with each viewing.
The last frame of “Casablanca” has the police chief pouring himself some mineral water. He drops the empty bottle in a wastebasket, and, spying the “Vichy” label, gives it a damn good kick, as he forsakes the collaborator’s role for one with the Free French.
Written in 1986 after a directive was sent to Irish teachers by Fine Gael’s Patrick Cooney, to tell their charges that the IRA was the source of all violence in Ireland.
By the way, Martial Petain was an obscure Lt Colonel when the Great War broke out. He celebrated his 60th Birthday in command of the defence of Verdun on 24 April 1916.From then until the Allies landed in France in 1944 he was the country’s most celebrated hero. Following the allied victory he was tried for treason and condemned to death, but because of his former glory, and his continued popularity amongst the French people this was commuted to life imprisonment.
On Petain’s 95th birthday, far away in Mayo, was born another Man of Destiny – Enda Kenny. On Enda’s 60th Birthday he had charge of Ireland’s destiny. His face has even graced the cover of TIME Magazine. Fame and favour are fickle. Who knows where he and his reputation will stand on his 95th Birthday?
(Petain survived, disgraced and imprisoned till his 95th birthday and died a few months later.)
_______________________________________________ Aubane mailing list Aubane@heresiarch.org http://heresiarch.org/mailman/listinfo/aubane_heresiarch.org